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I cannot believe how fast time has flown! I'm writing this on Friday December 4, almost 1 month since the Signy Team arrived on Signy for the 2009 ‘first call’


Jessica Royles (pictured with one of the ‘Friendlies’ – a skua that may be more than 20 years old), is a BAS and Cambridge University PhD student who is attempting to reconstruct Holocene climate from information from deep Antarctic moss banks. She has started an entertaining Signy web diary ( which is being continued by Tony Clements.


Tony is our plumber (here working in the reverse osmosis shed) and arguably the most important person as he has the most recent advanced medical training. We hope we won’t need his assistance in this area, at least.


It is high time I continue my blog, which is of a more lichenological nature, and which I started on board the James Clark Ross.


November 7 to November 15

Arrival at Signy



I helped with relief on November 7 and was transported to Signy Island with other members of our base and relief party by tender on Sunday November 8 to take up residence for the next 5 weeks or so. The weather was bright, cold and sunny. Wind chill was acute as we sped across the water so we did not remove our gloves for long to take photos! The cliffs above Signy base were glowing with bright orange lichens, readily visible from the tender. Cape and Snowy Petrels nest on these steep cliffs which encourage growth of these colourful lichens.


We were meet by Matt Jobson, carpenter by trade and supremo in all things Antarctic with 12 years experience in the Antarctic. For the last three years Matt has been Signy Base Commander. He is also Magistrate - British Antarctic Territories, Harbour Master and Deputy Postmaster of Signy.


A few days later (November 13) while we were assisting with cargo, our first elephant seal came to land. Adult seals are so heavy (more than 1000 kg) that they can seriously damage cargo and facilities. All hands were required to assist avert the container with fragile kitchen materials. The seals might consider this as comfortable bedding!


My visit and interdisciplinary work certainly benefits from my Signy mates and their help in so many different ways. It is a real privilege to visit Signy - a trip of a life-time. I am thoroughly enjoying all aspects (including cooking, gash, nightwatch duties and Saturday afternoon ‘scrubout’). Matt has even taught me to make bread!


My first walk

My first walk (11/11/2009) was with Jessica up the Backslope behind the base towards Observation Bluff. As we were not going far, we were dressed in our padded warm orange work overalls. The scene: indescribably beautiful shades of white and grey but the keen wind whipped up snow, transporting it considerable distances. Backslope is actually much steeper than it looks in this wide angle shot taken below Observation Bluff, looking towards Coronation Island. We pulled our hats down and scarves around our faces and trudged up the slope, the snow crunching under our feet. Almost blown off our feet, we made it as far as the Italian weather station. It would have been foolish to have ascended to the summit where (we later learned) snow blown by strong north easterlies created snow cornices making the summit appear larger than in reality. Tony reminds me the seawater inlet (flowing water sucked in under pressure) froze for a second consecutive day.


Lichen finds


Jessica’s data loggers (on the Backslope and below Observation Bluff) recorded a temperature of -9°C. Strong winds and wind chill made the temperature probably less than -25°C. The lowest temperature she recorded this year on this site was -30°C (compared with -19°C inside the base!). The main moss present is Chrisodontium aciphyllum, the focus of her study, which forms hummocky vegetation amongst which many lichens thrive. 14.jpg

I managed to find Neuropogon aurantiaco-atra, a lichen Charles Darwin collected during his voyage on the Beagle. Levels of usnic acid in lichens and mosses may vary according to levels of UV-B radiation – ‘natural suncreens’.


Penguin monitoring (and some lichens)

Penguin monitoring on Signy is beginning in earnest. Dirk Briggs, (BAS penguin expert) kindly invited me to accompany him on the next day (12/12/2009) to Gourlay Peninsula in the South East where he was recording Adelie and Chinstrap penguins. En route, snow was overhanging most shorelines so we were careful to avoid walking too close to the edge. I decided against enhancing this image as it was not very bright that day. It was snowing too. Wonderful! The weather remained bitterly cold. This time proper gear (base, mid-layers and salopettes) were worn and rucksacks with general supplies taken. I found the walk immensely enjoyable.


Whilst monitoring (by counting the penguins), Dirk suggested I walk to a nearby cairn. I did and sampled a small piece of lichen for a colleague back home. This was my first collection. Jessica, Tony, Bruce and I have since visited Gourlay on several occasions and assisted Dirk in penguin monitoring.



These two images are of Chinstrap penguins among lichen-covered roicks


Returning to base, the only visible lichens were on steep, wind-exposed surfaces. I did enhance this image in photoshop slightly to improve contrast or else it would be very grey ….


As we descended Stonechute towards Signy Station, Sunshine Glacier was visible in the middle distance. The time is 19.46.

William P

William P

Member since: Dec 16, 2009

William Purvis, a lichenologist from the Botany Department, is in the Antarctic on the island of Signy conducting research into lichen biodiversity under global climate change. Follow his blog, updated as and when he can from this remote area.

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